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5 Critical Competencies for Public Administration Leadership

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Written by guest contributor Ralph A. Gigliotti, Rutgers University.

The work of city and county managers is complex and dynamic – complex due to the many challenges facing local governments across the country and dynamic due to the dizzying changes impacting communities and their citizens. These challenges and changes come at a time when public confidence in elected officials remains historically low (Pew Research Center, 2015). Given these various factors, city and county managers have both an opportunity and obligation to build trust with their various constituents through the practice of effective leadership.

There is much written about leadership, and this blog in particular provides an excellent venue for some of the contemporary thinking and writing on the subject. Based on our work in the Center for Organizational Development and Leadership at Rutgers University, we have come to define leadership as a process of social influence that is shaped by verbal and nonverbal communication and co-constructed between leaders and followers (Ruben & Gigliotti, 2016). This definition, along with many other similar definitions, highlights the importance of both the leader and the follower in shaping the process of leadership. Put another way, the follower is what makes leadership possible, and leaders must regularly assess the impact of their behaviors on the various followers to whom one represents.

As we consider the complex and dynamic context facing city and county managers, Brent Ruben’s (2012) leadership competencies scorecard provides a useful overview of the knowledge and skills required for effective leadership during this important moment. This scorecard is the result of Ruben’s synthesis of the extensive professional literature on leadership, leading him to develop a diverse portfolio of requisite competencies based on five broad areas:

1) analytic competencies

2) personal competencies

3) communication competencies

4) organizational competencies

5) positional competencies

Each of these broad competency areas encompasses a number of themes, as illustrated in the figure below. As Ruben describes these broad and expansive competencies, he suggests that the many challenges that leaders face require a diverse portfolio of knowledge and skills, “and the ability to analyze situations and employ those competencies as needed” (p. 2).

Five Major Competency Themes - Leadership Effectiveness
Leadership Competency Scorecard Themes (Ruben, 2012)

Leadership involves a combination of both “vertical” competencies – the knowledge and skills needed to lead that are specific to one’s role as a local government official – and “horizontal” competencies – the generic knowledge and skills that cut across these competency areas. For example, your role as a public administrator likely requires an intimate understanding of local issues, but your success as a leader also very much hinges upon your analytical problem-solving skills, your organizational abilities, your enthusiasm for public service, and your effectiveness in communicating with the diverse constituents in your community.

As you think about your own leadership effectiveness, take time to review the various competency areas in the scorecard, and consider in which of these areas you are most and least proficient. As will be addressed in a future blog post, your development as a leader calls for both a deep self-awareness and an intentional commitment to improvement.

Ralph Gigliotti
Ralph A. Gigliotti, PhD is assistant director of the Center for Organizational Development & Leadership at Rutgers University, where he is also a part-time lecturer in Communication. Ralph earned his PhD in Communication from Rutgers University and his research and consulting interests explore the intersection of organizational communication, leadership, and crisis communication, particularly in the context of higher education. Ralph’s research appears in numerous books and journals, including the Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, Journal of Leadership Education, and the Atlantic Journal of Communication. Ralph is also the co-author of A Guide for Leaders in Higher Education: Core Concepts, Competencies, and Tools (Stylus Publishing, 2017) and the forthcoming Leadership: Social Influence in Personal and Professional Settings (Kendall Hunt Publishing). Ralph also serves as an adjunct instructor in the online Public Administration graduate program at Villanova University.

References

Pew Research Center (2015). Public trust in government: 1958-2015. Retrieved February 6, 2017

from http://www.people-press.org/2015/11/23/public-trust-in-government-1958-2015/

Ruben, B. D. (2012). What leaders need to know and do: A leadership competencies scorecard. (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: National Association of College and University Business Officers.

Ruben, B. D. & Gigliotti, R. A. (2016). Leadership as social influence: An expanded view of leadership communication theory and practice. Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, 23(4), 467-479.

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